Only a few days in Norway? What do you do? What do you see? I know most people would probably prefer to explore such a cooler region temperature-wise in Spring, but I found the Winter season to be absolutely fabulous! I recently explored Norway in late November, and I could not have been happier with my decision. Yes, the days are shorter, but everything is still pristine and beautiful in every way imaginable. So again, what to do? Below you will find a sample itinerary for someone who only has a short amount of time in the country, but wants to capitalize on a quick trip.
Fly into Bergen and arrive by mid-afternoon. Bergen is a great place to just explore and eat. And, an added plus is that this quaint city holds the area of Bryggen (The German Dock), which is featured on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Don’t forget to pack your umbrella or rain jacket though for your leisurely stroll! Bergen is aptly nicknamed the “City of Rain,” as it receives 2250mm of precipitation a year on average. Or for us Americans not familiar with the metric system, that’s 88 inches, so over 6 feet.
In the Bryggen area, you can stroll around the dock as well as stop in for food at one of the local restaurants, Matborsen. This restaurant is a great choice if you have no idea what you’re in the mood for as they serve a little bit of everything–it’s essentially three restaurants in one. The local spot has an Asian corner, a grill (think steaks and various meats) and a zupperia (soups gallore!). So you can have anything from a lamb gyro to sushi to a bowl of reindeer soup on a cool evening, or if you’re famished from all the walking around you’ve been doing, try one of everything! The only downside to this place is the lacking service; however, if time is on your side and you’re not on a strict schedule, then this is the place to check out.
After dinner, grab drinks nearby at the posh Biblioteket Bar. If the drinks and people don’t wow you, the view of Vagen (the bay) and the beautiful decor of this place will.
If you want something more along the lines of quick service, I suggest you head to the fish market along the bay. Inside are a few food options; however, I recommend the Sake Maki roll from Fish Me. Given Norway is one of the world’s leading producers of Atlantic Salmon, I had expected the fish used to be amazing, and it did not disappoint–not to forget it was super fresh.
Prior to leaving on your trip to Norway, make sure you book your ticket for the Norway in a Nutshell tour. As a precautionary measure, I would suggest grabbing these tickets shortly after booking your flights to Norway. This trip can be completed in a day, or if you want more time, you can opt to stay in Flam overnight. I did this trip in a day and while it is a bit of a whirlwind, I felt my time was used wisely. So what is this Norway in a Nutshell tour? This tour is a must-see, all-day journey that takes you through parts of Norway via train, followed by a bus ride which drops you off at a boat dock for a Fjord cruise, leading to a train ride from Flam to Myrdal and then completes the expedition with a separate train onward to Oslo. There is an option to return to your original starting point in Bergen if you prefer. Additionally, you can also begin the trip in Oslo landing in Bergen as your final destination or again Oslo to Oslo. While I do not feel returning to your city of origin is the best way of optimizing your time, this is totally up to you.
Grab your tickets either the day before your trip or the morning of at the NSB Office located at the train station. The morning of you will hop on the train from Bergen and begin your journey to Voss (portion of the Bergen Railway). The ride is filled with spectacular views so make sure you grab a window seat. Upon arriving to Voss, you will hop on a bus behind the train station to Gudvangen. Make sure you double-check the bus name prior to getting on it–your bus should say Norway in a Nutshell; however, always ask if you have any questions.
From here, the bus will journey for a short time to take you to the Fjord cruise dock. You will have a small span of time to use the bathroom and grab a bite if you’re hungry at the local (and only) spot, known as the Norwegian Fjord Voyage restaurant. Of note, the schnitzel is a great food option at this touristy pit stop. Make sure to also snap some shots of the beginning section of the Fjords before hopping on the boat.
After grabbing a bite to eat and taking some snapshots, jump on the Fjord cruise and venture down the waterway. The “cruise” is approximately two hours; however, there is a bathroom and as well as food and drinks for sale on the boat. If it’s not too cold outside, I highly recommend sitting outside; however, if it is not feasible given the weather, then try to grab a seat towards the front of the boat to get the best view.
After the two hours, you will reach Flam, where you will have a bit of time to rest. Check out the Flam Bakeri (bakery) for a snack while you wait. If you are traveling during the winter months, I suggest heading on the earlier train from Flam in the direction of Myrdal to take advantage of the sunlight so you can see the beautiful vistas. The conductors are usually okay with this, but best to let them know those are your plans as your tickets will display times for the later train that day.
Views from the window of the Flam Railway.
As you journey on, the conductor will more than likely stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall, so have your cameras ready as it’s one of the most visited attractions in Norway. Hop off and take photos of nature’s beauty while you wait.
As you approach Myrdal, it is best get off the train at Vatnahalasen station and grab a drink at Vatnahalsen Hotel (if you opted to take the earlier train from Flam). The reason for this is that there is absolutely nothing to do at the Myrdal station except wait, so you might as well wait in the comfort of this cozy family-run establishment. Just make sure you keep an eye on the time as the train does not wait and is very timely. When time, hop back on the train and travel one station over to Myrdal and wait for the Bergen Railway train to take you on to Oslo (a little over a 4.5 hour journey). There is Wi-Fi on this Bergen Railway train to Oslo, which helps pass the time as you will not be able to see much outside given it will be pitch black by this time of day.
If you have an extra day, stay in Oslo and explore the capital city. Otherwise, off to Tromso.
Grab a train in the morning from Olso’s Central Station to go to the airport (OSL) . You can buy the train tickets when you arrive to the train station that morning, so no need to grab these in advance. Trains run approximately every 10 minutes, and it takes about 30 minutes to arrive to the airport. So grab a ticket in the direction of Eidsvoll, and off you go. To take full advantage of the day, the earlier flight, the better to begin your journey. Given Tromso’s location, it receives very little daylight in the Winter–it essentially appears to look like dusk at all times during the daylight hours.
Upon arriving to Tromso, check into your hotel, drop off your bags, grab a map and get going as time is not on your side with respect to daylight. Head straight to the Polarmuseet, a small museum on the waterfront, to learn about Arctic life and polar exploration.
After navigating through the museum, head on over to Macks Olbryggeri (Macks Brewery) if you’re a beer lover, of course. This local bar has a huge selection of beers and ciders. Additionally, they offer tours Monday-Friday starting at 3:30pm, which takes approximately one hour.
For dinner, if you are interested in a fine dining option, check out Emma’s Drommekjokken (Emma’s Dream Kitchen) which has some of the best food in town. If you can, try to make a reservation in advance as this place fills up quickly!
Another great option in town is Arctandria Sjomat Restaurant (Arctandria Seafood Restaurant). As one of the best seafood restaurants in the city, it is worth a visit. If you’re feeling adventurous, be sure to try the whale steak.
After dinner, go back to the hotel and bundle up as you prepare for your night of chasing the Northern Lights. It is best to go through a tour group (although it can be a bit costly); however, it is completely worth it. Also, best to book these tickets in advance to ensure you have a spot. The guides will usually start around 8:00pm and pick you up from one of the local hotels. From there, you will head to a warehouse where the tour company will provide you with warmer boots, gloves, as well as a snow suit. All of these are a must!
After gearing up, you will head out in search of the Northern Lights. Make sure you bring your DSLR as the cameras on iPhones and Androids still have a hard time picking up the lights. Also, check with your guide to ensure they are traveling with tripods as these will be necessary to stabilize your cameras in order to capture the amazing phenomenon. Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to carry a few extra snacks with you as well as the trip will take multiple hours.
Northern Lights spotted outside Tromso.
Wake up and catch a flight back to Oslo. From there grab a flight back home and relax from your whirlwind trip!
Things to know before leaving:
Currency: Norwegian Krone
Tipping: If you are happy with your dining service, it is customary to leave 10%. Of note, it is not usual, however, to tip cab drivers. Additionally, no need to tip your hotel maids as that is not routine for Norway.
Heads up: Sales tax is currently listed at 25% so be prepared to cough off some extra money when paying that restaurant bill.